During the Fall of 1989, people of the German Democratic Republic (DDR/GDR) started to demonstrate for more rights, freedom to travel, free elections and multiparty system.
Over the course of the summer, thousands had fled to Western Germany via the Czech Republic and Hungary. Starting in Leipzig and Berlin, people congregated in churches, from where the famous Monday demonstrations started. The Stasi, the East German Secret Police, were watching the demonstrations closely, beating and arresting participants at will. Demonstrators were not deterred, and by October 30th, there were already 300,000 people in the streets of Leipzig — but neither the East German Armed Forces nor the Soviet soldiers got involved in keeping the protests down, as they had done previously with large protests criticizing the state. At that point the demonstrations were equally powerful in cities all over the DDR. Their demands now had to be listened to.
The SED Concedes
The central committee of the ruling (and only) party of the DDR, the SED, gave in and made concessions, planning to unroll a bunch of reforms to appease the public. One of them was the freedom to travel without any restrictions. This was meant to be a gradual process, but a mix-up made it sound immediate when it was announced in a press conference on November 9, 1989. So, the people of East Berlin went to the border crossings and demanded to be let to the other side. They shouted “We are gonna come back” and “Open the Gate” and “No violence!”
The Long-Awaited Moment
Despite having a standing order to use deadly force against anyone trying to cross the border, which had been used as a powerful deterrent to the many people wanting to escape the rigorous rule of the SED party, no weapon was used that night. No shot fired. The sheer number of protesters standing at the border crossing demanding to be let across (and back again) was too high to be controlled without using excessive force and a few individual guards at the border crossing at Bornholmer Str. in Berlin decided to open the gates around 10 pm that night. Consequently, other control points followed and both West and East Berliners were finally able to get access to the whole city again.
A Brighter Future
Following that fateful night of November 9th, the DDR and the BRD were united to become one German state again; not without problems, but hopefully working to a better future — united. What was once inconceivable, the Iron Curtain opening to abolish dictatorships and injustices, has led to a more democratic Europe and it was made possible by the power of the people peacefully protesting for freedom of speech and the press, free and democratic elections, and an end to the rule of the SED party.
AIFS fall semester students in Berlin had the opportunity to visit Leipzig at the end of October and heard about the powerful movement that brought down the Berlin Wall from a local participant. This week, they were taking tours to commemorate the 30 year anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall at the memorial in Berlin.
Leipzig is included as a day trip from Berlin on AIFS in Berlin semester programs. AIFS offers programs both in former East and West Berlin. The history of the Cold War, the Allied Forces in Germany, the Wall, and the Peaceful Revolution are frequent points of discussion in class, during tours, and explorations around Berlin during cultural programming.